Editorial and Commentary

How will the University of California survive?

July 17, 2009

By Jorge Mariscal

 The impact of the economic crisis on the University of California has been in the headlines over the last two weeks. 

 Last Saturday’s Union Tribune article on the UC budget meltdown drew heavily on a letter that was signed by 23 department chairmen at UC San Diego. Unfortunately, this has been the only public proposal from UCSD faculty and so all of us who teach there have been tainted with its self-serving recommendations.

 Although the tone of sociology professor Andy Scull’s original letter gave the impression that he was contesting the current UC regime, in many ways the logic of what he proposed coincided perfectly with where the UC was heading long before the economic crisis.

 Professor Scull and the other department chairs who signed his letter urged UC President Yudof and the regents to consider “closing campuses and enrolling more out-of-state students, who pay much higher tuition, to minimize long-term damage to the UC’s more accomplished campuses.”

 As the privatization of the UC continues (UCSD, for example, is a public university in name only with only 6% of its budget coming from the state), more out-of-state and international students will be admitted. This has been a shift desired by some for several years now. The mission of the UC that says we should be serving the people of California is sacrificed on the altar of revenue flow. 

 UCSD then becomes a finishing school for out-of-state students from rich families and affluent foreigners. The University of Michigan, now almost fully privatized and being talked about as a model for the new UC, currently enrolls more international students than Mexican American students. 

 Once the three “elite” UC campuses make the transition to being in essence private schools, working class and minority students will slowly disappear from their classrooms. Again, this is already happening due to increased tuition (which Scull supports) and enrollment caps. But if UC were to adopt Scull’s plan and wipe out the campuses with the most underrepresented students—Riverside and Merced—you accelerate the process.

 Of course, this has already happened at the professional schools where Blacks and Chicanos can be counted on one hand. In Scull’s scenario, by 2040 when Latinos make up a majority of the state not just the professional schools but the entire UC will be closed to all but a handful of them (although large numbers of them will be academically qualified). Talented 2%, anyone?

 It will be argued that wealthy out-of-state and foreign students paying higher fees will subsidize financial aid for less affluent students. But this positive scenario depends on the kind of successful outreach to working families that has never been the norm at UCSD. 

 The one area where UCSD has made progress in terms of enrolling more Chicano and Black students has been community college transfers. A likely outcome of the crisis is that foreign transfers begin to displace local transfers. The percentage of foreign students among transfers is already higher than it is among new freshmen.

 The twin elephants in the budget crisis room that UC administrators and faculty have chosen to ignore are class and race privilege. In the case of UC San Diego, it’s in the institutional DNA. When campus founder Roger Revelle first imagined a La Jolla campus in the late 1950s, he saw it as an exclusive “seedbed for future leaders.” The unwashed masses, he implied, could attend San Diego State.

 The reaction in the central valley to the now infamous letter from the UCSD 23 was rightfully angry and to the point. The Fresno Bee’s Bill McEwen put forth one of the better analyses: “So, faced with the challenge of making do with less — as millions of Californians are doing — what did some of the purportedly best and brightest at UC San Diego come up with? Close down the newest UC serving some of the poorest towns in America, a region where thousands of bright, industrious youngsters are working to someday become the first college graduates in their families. I’ve got a better idea. That campus they’ve got down there in tony La Jolla, where some two-bedroom condos — I kid you not — list for $2 million? Shutter the university, sell everything off and start all over in Brawley.” Or maybe Chula Vista.

 Although late last week UC President Yudof rejected the idea of closing campuses, it is important to understand the logic behind what the UCSD 23 suggested—a “disaster capitalism” solution in which the crisis allows those at the top to maintain their privilege, facilitates privatization, and further fetishizes the notion of “excellence.” Elite sectors of each campus will become more exclusive as rich, i.e., externally funded, departments turn into gated communities surrounded by the mini-ghettos of under funded programs that are unable to generate their own revenue.

 It’s curious to see that so many department chairs at UCSD whose own programs could be negatively affected signed on to the letter, e.g. History, Communication. If the crisis continues for two or three more years, as some predict, smaller programs like African American and Chicano/Latino studies will no doubt shrink and may eventually disappear. Big-time donors willing to drop a million dollars on academic programs designed to question economic and cultural injustice simply don’t exist.

 Is there a way out of the crisis for the UC? President Yudof’s contention that if the university could only explain to the people of California how much the UC does for them they would rally to its defense founders on the shoals of powerful stereotypes about “lazy ‘radical’ professors.” If this crisis does nothing else, it hopefully will destroy once and for all the fantasy that “Marxist professors” are running the University of California. 

 The UC is a giant corporation replete with over-paid executives, a cadre of increasingly entrepreneurial and hyper-professionalized faculty, and an army of over-worked staff and instructors. Milton Friedman would approve; Marx most certainly would not.

 On Wednesday, the UC Regents rubber stamped a furlough/pay cut for faculty and staff. Only Lt. Gov. John Garamendi voted against it. Unless the Regents and elected officials come up with new ways for the state to support higher education, the UC system will continue its decline. The Cal State campuses will follow close behind. Who will be the real losers in all of this?—the hopes and dreams of generations of future working and middle class California students.

Jorge Mariscal is director of the Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program at the University of California, San Diego.

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Comments

21 Responses to “How will the University of California survive?”

  1. Chicana Says:

    Thank you Prof. Mariscal for outlining the underlying elitism in the letter and for showing how our educational institutions are shutting their doors to those seeking the American dream through educational mobility. I never thought I’d see this day…

  2. Peter Says:

    The post states, “at the professional schools […] Blacks and Chicanos can be counted on one hand.” Am I wrong in having the impression this is not true at least of the UCSD Medical School? Medical students seem to be quite a diverse group.

  3. Dana Says:

    I share many of the author’s views, but it might appear hypocritical to accuse the letter in question of being “self-serving” while at the same time the author, director of a Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program, puts forth arguments in support of humanities and Chicano/Latino studies.

    Is there a fine line between advocating one’s interests and being self-serving? Perspectives will differ, and we can hardly expect many people to argue against their own interests. I believe everyone involved deserves the presumption their position and arguments are earnest and forthright.

    Such quibbles notwithstanding, the piece does interrogate elitism vs. egalitarianism at U.C., an important issue that appears totally neglected by University officials in favor of platitudinous, euphemistic-sounding talk about “excellence.”

    Who can argue with excellence? By couching the discussion in these terms, they dodge deeper questions underlying the debate, such as what exactly constitutes an “excellent” public university in the first place.

  4. Xicano Says:

    o.k., not one hand but maybe two and a half: “Of the 122 students admitted [to the UCSD School of Medicine] in Fall 2004, 7 were Hispanic/Latino; 4 were African American; 4 were multi-racial; and 1 was American Indian.”

  5. Dana Says:

    Xicano, interesting figures from 2004. The piece emphasizes that it’s a trend (“working class and minority students will slowly disappear […] this has already happened at the professional schools”). I wonder if we can find more recent figures and see what kind of change there’s been in the past 5 years. (I did a little searching but haven’t found anything so far.)

  6. Dana Says:

    P.S. I’m trying not to picture two and a half hands… :O

  7. Janet Spear Says:

    Typical of what you would expect from a professor in a “Chicano-Latino Arts and Humanities Program”

    This field is nonsense.

    We need to get Mexican Americans into Engineering, Biology, Mathematics.

    The best thing we could do for minorities is to shut down the “studies” departments. These are filled with academic parasites who divert bright young men and women into nonsensical fields where they spend their time whining instead of contributing.

    Don’t let a good crisis go to waste. Shut them down. It would save a lot of money too.

  8. Professor Says:

    Ms. Janet Spear,

    I applaud your use of the term “typical” to describe Dr. Mariscal response to the injustices that are being played out in California’s higher education system. It is “typical” for people of color to speak out and voice criticism to the unfair and often times bigoted practices of government and groups in power. So, yes, minorities and all others who are experiencing the “dark side” of California’s mismanagement should “typically” speak out as Dr. Mariscal has so eloquently done.

    Second, your statement that ethnic studies is “nonsense” is completely unfounded. Why stop there? Why don’t we reevaluate the “value” of British literature, American studies, the entire English department. Don’t they promote and educate a form of “ethnic studies?” Your narrow and dare I say bigoted criticism of ethnic studies is short sighted and ill advised.

    Thirdly, most of these “ethnic studies” departments already function with a limited budget and often list professors as “associates.” In other words, the elimination of these departments would not only reduce the quality of education at universities but would do little in reducing spending (perhaps a university should reevalute the cost of athletic departments as an alternative).

    Ms. Spear to reduce the quality work and knowledge produced by professors in the humanities as “nonsensical” would negate the value of education and a democracy’s responsibility to provide a quality service to all of its citizens and residents. It isn’t just engineers and mathmaticians that make the world go round. Last I checked it wasn’t an engineer or biologist who was elected to the American presidency. In fact, we haven’t had an engineer or the like in 80 years (Herbert Hoover–Great Depression? Wait, you would need history to know that and of course you find that field to be “nonsense.”)

  9. Xicano Says:

    Thanks for your support of the arts, history, and philosophy, Janet. Without these areas of study, your engineers, biologists, and mathematicians will be pencil necked nerds without a shred of knowledge about the past, ethics, culture, and justice. And if you think shutting down Chicano programs at the UC will save a lot of money, you’re hallucinating. Whatever they get is chump change. Oh, and by the way, Chicanos are the Mexican Americans who don’t whine. When you tell them the study of their history and culture is nonsense, they get right up in your grill.

  10. Xicano Says:

    Dana: According to http://www.aamc.org/data/facts/2008/gradschlraceeth08.htm

    Out of a total of 126 graduates, UCSD Med School in 2008 graduated 1 African American, 1 Native American, and 7 Mexican Americans.

    Sorry about the two and half hands image.

  11. Janet Spear Says:

    ” Why don’t we reevaluate the “value” of British literature, American studies, the entire English department. Don’t they promote and educate a form of “ethnic studies?”

    You are starting to catch on. These departments, today, teach the same level of rubbish as the other “studies” departments.

    I don’t mind if people want to waste their time on this nonsense on their own dime. I just don’t want to subsidize it with my tax dollars.

    Also, I would appreciate if the patronizing sexist attitude was removed from the comments addressed to me.

  12. Dana Says:

    Xicano, good digging! So the total underrepresented UCSD Med School graduates can be counted on 2 hands after all, unfortunately. It’s interesting the numbers are almost the same as 2004 except 3 fewer African Americans. On the other (half?) hand these numbers are so small it’s hard to tell the difference between a significant change and normal fluctuation.

    Comparing to the breakdown of UCSD undergrads by ethnicity in http://studentresearch.ucsd.edu/sriweb/Profile2008.pdf it looks like underrepresented minorities are in fact a little more underrepresented in the med school than among undergraduates, which would I guess be the ordinarily depressing expectation. Thanks for disabusing me.

  13. Richard Oxman Says:

    This is an excellent piece, of course. PLEASE — SOMEONE — CONTACT JORGE MARISCAL ON MY BEHALF and ask him to contact me at either headburg@yahoo.com, tosca.2010@yahoo.com or 831-688-8038 immediately. I have a plan designed to “secure the UC” as per our mutual interests, giving priority to Prof. Mariscal’s agenda. Blessings in solidarity, Richard Oxman http://oxtogrind.org/archive/350

  14. Dan Says:

    Professor — wasn’t Jimmy Carter trained as an engineer? And Obama and Clinton are lawyers. I respect your position — even if I don’t agree with it all — but you sort of cherry picked in your critique.

  15. Martha K Says:

    You say lower and middles class families will be the losers, but that’s an optimistic and even elitist view as well. Increase that assessment to anyone making under $200,000 per year. Those making between 80k and 200k can’t get aid because UCs do not award merit based aid without economic need. Paying for college will take half of what we have saved over 15 years and we have another child. My parents are older and have already had 2 medical crises’ that took everything they had. We will be supporting them soon. In the end we will sell our home to support our kid’s college and our parents. Who is rich? How can California be strong if it neither educates it’s future, nor supplements students able to prove they are college ready? This is like a farmer who grows crops for a living. She plants this seed, watches it grow, sees she has a lot of great product ready to be harvested, but because she chose not to buy a harvester, she just waits for the wind to blow product into her barn from her neighbor’s field. Who in their right mind would do that?

  16. Milan Moravec Says:

    Current Threats to University of California Don’t Come From the Outside – $3 Million Extravagant Spending by UC President Yudof for University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau to Hire Consultants – When Work Can Be Done Internally & Impartially
    During the days of the Great Recession, every dollar in higher education counts. Contact Chairwoman Budget Sub-committee on Education Finance Assemblywoman Carter 916.319.2062 – tell her to stop the $3,000,000 spending by Birgeneau on consultants.
    Do the work internally at no additional costs with UCB Academic Senate Leadership (C. Kutz/F. Doyle), the world – class professional UCB faculty/ staff, & the UCB Chancellor’s bloated staff (G. Breslauer, N. Brostrom, F. Yeary, P. Hoffman, C. Holmes etc) & President Yudof.
    President Yudof’s UCB Chancellor should do the high paid work he is paid for instead of hiring expensive East Coast consults to do the work of his job. ‘World class’ smart executives like Chancellor Birgeneau need to do the hard work analysis, and make the tough-minded difficult, decisions to identify inefficiencies.
    Where do the $3,000,000 consultants get their recommendations?
    From interviewing the UCB senior management that hired them and approves their monthly consultant fees and expense reports. Remember the nationally known auditing firm who said the right things and submitted recommendations that senior management wanted to hear and fooled the public, state, federal agencies?
    $3 million impartial consultants never bite the hands (Chancellor Birgeneau/ Chancellor Yeary) that feed them!
    Mr. Birgeneau’s accountabilities include “inspiring innovation, leading change.” Instead of deploying his leadership and setting a good example by doing the work of his Chancellor’s job, Birgeneau outsourced his work to the $3,000,000 consultants. Doesn’t he engage UC and UC Berkeley people at all levels to examine inefficiencies and recommend $150 million of trims? Hasn’t he talked to Cornell and the University of North Carolina – which also hired the consultants — about best practices and recommendations that eliminate inefficiencies?
    No wonder the faculty, staff, students, Senate & Assembly are angry and suspicious.
    In today’s Great Recession three million dollars is a irresponsible price to pay when a knowledgeable ‘world-class’ UCB Chancellor and his bloated staff do not do the work of their jobs.
    Pick up the phone and call: save $3 million for students!

  17. Transparency Says:

    UCB Chancellor Birgeneau Loss of Trust, Credibility
    The UCB budget gap has grown to $150 million, and still the Chancellor is spending money that isn’t there on expensive outside consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the “innovative thinking, expertise, and new knowledge” the consultants would bring.

    Does this mean that the faculty and management of a world-class research and teaching institution lack the knowledge, impartiality, innovation, and professionalism to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? The consultants will glean their recommendations from interviewing faculty and the UCB management that hired them; yet solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor were doing the job HE was hired to do. Consultant fees would be far better spent on meeting the needs of students.

    There can be only one conclusion as to why creative solutions have not been forthcoming from the professionals within UCB: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility and the trust of the faculty as well as of the Academic Senate leadership that represents them. Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants’ recommendations – disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy – the underlying problem of lost credibility and trust will remain.

  18. Transparency Says:

    Tyranny of loyalty to the employer @ the University of California Berkeley. Public and private organizations are into a phase of creative disassembly where constant reinvention and adjustments are constant. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being shed by Chevron, NUMI, Wells Fargo Bank, HP, Starbucks etc. and the state, counties and cities. Even solid world class institutions like the University of California Berkeley under the leadership of Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer are firing staff, faculty and part-time lecturers. Estimates are that the State of California may jettison 47,000 positions.
    Yet many employees, professionals and faculty cling to old assumptions about one of the most critical relationship of all: the implied, unwritten contract between employer and employee.
    Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised job security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees’s fitting in, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employeer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today. Organizations can no longer guarantee employment and lifetime careers, even if they want to.
    Organizations that paralyzed themselves with an attachment to “success brings success’ rather than “success brings failure’ are now forced to break the implied contract with employees – a contract nurtured by management that the future can be controlled.
    Jettisoned employees are finding that the hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place.
    What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other? The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need – skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability.
    The partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor. Faculty and staff loyalty at Cal is dead – get used to it.

  19. MIlan Moravec Says:

    University of California will survive with wage concessions from chancellors, vice chancellors faculty and UCOP: UC Academic Senate too. Californians fund UC. Californians face foreclosure, unemployment, depressed wages, loss of medical, unemployment benefits, higher taxes: UC Board of Regents Regent Lansing, President Yudof demonstrated leadership by curbing wages, benefits. As a Californian, I don’t care what others earn at private, public universities. If wages better elsewhere, chancellors, vice chancellors, tenured, non tenured faculty, UCOP should apply for the positions. If wages commit employees to UC, leave for better paying position. The sky above UC will not fall.
    California suffers from the greatest deficit modern times. UC wages, benefits must reflect California’s ability to pay, not what others paid elsewhere. Campus chancellors, vice chancellors, tenured & non-tenured faculty, UCOP are replaceable by the more talented.
    UC faculty, chancellor vice chancellor concessions:
    No furloughs
    18 percent reduction in UCOP salaries & $50 million cut.
    18 percent prune of campus chancellors’, vice chancellors’ salaries.
    15 percent trim of tenured faculty salaries, increased teaching load
    10 percent decrease in non-tenured faculty salaries, as well as increase research, teaching load
    100% elimination of all Academic Senate, Academic Council costs, wages.

    Rose bushes bloom after pruning.

    UC Board of Regents Sherry Lansing, President Yudof can bridge the public trust gap by offering reassurances that UC salaries reflect depressed wages in California. The sky will not fall on UC

    Californians are reasonable people. Levy no new taxes until an approved balanced budget: let the Governor/Legislature lead – make the tough-minded (not cold hearted) decisions of elected leadership. Afterwards come to public for continuing, specified taxes.

    Thank you for advocating for all Californians, University of California

  20. Milan Moravec Says:

    University of California (UC) tuition, fee increases are an insult. Californians face mortgage defaults, 12% unemployment, pay reductions, loss of unemployment benefits. No layoff or wage reductions for UC Chancellors, Vice Chancellors, Faculty during greatest recession of modern times.
    There is no good reason to raise tuition, fees when wage concessions are available. UC wages must reflect California’s ability to pay, not what others are paid. If wages better elsewhere, chancellors, vice chancellors, tenured, non tenured faculty, UCOP apply for the positions. If wages determine commitment to UC Berkeley, leave for better paying position. The sky above the 10 campuses will not fall.
    Pitch in (with deeds not words) for all California Democrats, Republicans UC!
    No furloughs. UCOP 18% reduction salaries & $50 million cut.
    Chancellors’ Vice-Chancellors’, 18% cut. Tenured faculty 15% trim.
    Non-Tenured, 10% reduction. Academic Senate, Council remove 100% costs salaries.
    It is especially galling to continue to generously compensate chancellors, vice-chancellors, faculty while Californians are making financial sacrifices and faculty, chancellor, vice-chancellor turnover is one of the lowest of public universities.
    The message that President Yudof, UC Board of Regent Chair Lansing, UC Berkeley Birgeneau are sending is that they have more concern for generously paid chancellors, faculty. The few at the top need to get a grip on economic reality and fairness.
    The California Legislature needs a Bill to oversee higher education salaries, tuition.

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